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Apple Music on iTunes is an embarrassing and confusing mess

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 9:02PM EST
Apple Music Problems
Image: Apple

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Apple Music gets a lot of things right. First and foremost, curation on Apple’s new music service is top-notch and can unquestionably be positioned as a strong differentiator to Spotify. After a few days of heavy Apple Music usage, I’ve happily discovered a number of great songs that would have otherwise flew underneath my radar. While not every suggestion is a winner, the hit-to-miss ratio is noticeably higher compared to song suggestions I typically see on Pandora and Spotify.

Unfortunately, though, the rollout of Apple Music from a UI and usability standpoint leaves much to be desired. To be blunt, the current implementation of Apple Music, both on iOS and on iTunes, is an embarrassment and a far cry from the traditional standard of software excellence that Apple has long been known for.

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Just last week I highlighted how Apple Music in iOS 8.4 is discouragingly temperamental when it comes to adding songs to playlists, a problem which remains ongoing. Today, though, it’s high-time shine a spotlight on many of the backwards and mystifying design choices Apple implemented with Apple Music on iTunes. If one were forced to describe in one phrase what Apple Music on iTunes is like, I think frustratingly inconsistent would be a strong choice.

Let’s dive in.

Here we have a selection of songs within a playlist. If we left-click on the three ellipses next to any individual song, we’re presented with the following options. So far so good, but if you want to add a song to another playlist, you have to pro-actively click yet again to bring up a selection of playlists to choose from.

This is a clear usability fail.

What’s interesting though, is that if we right-lick on the ellipses, then adding a song to a playlist can be done simply by dragging the mouse cursor over the right arrow. This is far more efficient, and one wonders why it works differently depending on the click.

If you look at the two photos above, you’ll also notice that the order in which “New station from Artist” and “New station from Song” appear are flipped. Further, note how in the first instance, the “Show in iTunes Store” is located below the “New Station” options while appearing below said options in the second instance.

While these in and of themselves are hardly deal-breaking issue, they’re reflective of a product that perhaps wasn’t given the level of testing and oversight that it should have. In a word, this is all rather sloppy.

Unfortunately, the inconsistencies only grow more problematic from there.

Let’s say I perform a search on Apple Music for an album or artist not currently on my computer. In this case, I’ll do a search for Sublime.

From the search results page, if I left-click on the ellipses for a particular song, I’m not even given the ability to add it to a playlist.


Hmm, maybe I’ll try a right-click.

Even stranger: not one item listed on the entire search results page, from songs to albums to playlists, will respond to a right-click on the ellipses. Does Apple expect users to always be aware of where they are within Apple Music’s navigational hierarchy at all times? Are users supposed to remember where and when a right-click will work and where it won’t?

Moving along, when I left-click on a specific album from the search results page, the only option I have is to share it.

What if I wanted to add that album to “My Music”, or perhaps add it to a playlist in one fell swoop?

But if I scroll further down to the Playlists section and left-click on the ellipses, well, apparently playlists can be directly added to “My Music.”

Now let’s see what happens when I take a look at Music Videos.

A left-click here, for some strange reason, now gives me the option to create a new station based on either the song or the artist. That’s great, but why don’t I have that option when I click on an album?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, I agree. It’s time to move on from Sublime.

Next, let’s search for an artist with a rather extensive song catalog. What better choice than the Apple Music revolutionary herself, Taylor Swift.

If I want to take a look at all of Taylor Swift’s songs, I can simply select the “Songs” section from the search results page. Easy enough, but why are all of the songs listed in a grid format, with no apparent way to view it otherwise? This makes for a rather frustrating UI when dealing with exploring artists with large catalogues of music.

Is this any way to scroll through a song library?!

Here’s another example of Apple Music’s muddled UI.

Let’s say I do a search for Lupe Fiasco. From the results page, I scroll on down to a list of his songs.

Bizarrely, if I click on the album name listed underneath the name of the song, I’m whisked away to Lupe Fiasco’s artist page.

In what world does this make sense?

What makes this all the more perplexing is that the search results page in Apple Music already has an “Artists” category that takes me to a specific artists page.

And these examples, sadly, are merely representative and certainly not exhaustive.

The fact that Apple shipped Apple Music in its current form is beyond comprehension. Apple isn’t some fledgling start-up after all. On the contrary, Apple is the most successful tech company on the planet and releasing a polished product at scale without elementary UI issues should be a given.

It’s almost as if Apple Music, as it stands today, is a perfect University case study for examining what a poorly executed UI looks and feels like.

And this is all without even touching on the overall clunkiness of the iTunes 12 interface itself or some of the peculiar UI decisions associated with Beats 1 Radio.

Why, for instance, can’t I add songs from Beats 1 Radio to a playlist? My only option is to just toss it into “My Music.” If I have a library that’s a few thousand strong, finding a hidden radio gem would be an effort in frustration. Why not let me add it to a playlist of my choosing directly?

When I right-click, these are my options. Curiously, “Go to Current Song” doesn’t appear to do anything.

The Verge’s review of Apple Music on iTunes is similarly unflattering.

If you want to put a song or album from Apple Music on repeat, you have to go on a scavenger hunt through the menu bar, and it may or may not work. iTunes feels like it was built for the last generation of apps. Spotify’s desktop app is nothing to write home about, but it feels much snappier and lighter than iTunes ever has.

Indeed, Spotify’s desktop app is much more intuitive and straight-forward than Apple Music on iTunes. If Apple truly wants to reach 100 million subscribers they have their work cut out for them. Indeed, it’s hard to read any Apple Music review without stumbling across adjectives like “messy” and “confusing.”

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.